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Many Chinese officials were concerned that the Olympics coverage would turn into a global anti-China campaign dominated by negative stories about China’s human rights records or other local issues, like Tibet. The study results show that, on the contrary, the 2008 Olympics overall received mostly positive or neutral coverage, with very few critical stories. Even across different regions, the coverage remained predominantly positive or neutral with only the EU-US region (and to a lesser extent Africa) offering any substantial number of negative stories on its front pages. In addition, the Arabic world had the least amount of negative coverage, followed by China itself.

The topic chosen for an Olympics story may influence the tone of the coverage towards China. Chart 4.1 shows that more than half (54%) of all stories had positive topics and more than one third (35%) were neutral. Only 11% of the stories had negative topics.

Chart 4.1

When it came to the tone towards China, most of the stories related to China were either positive or neutral, too. Out of all the stories, 25% had a positive tone and 22% a neutral tone towards China, while only 8% had a negative tone towards China. However, only 55% of the stories had content directly related to China and separate from the Olympics. If we take out the stories that had no content directly related to China (45%), the results become 45% positive, 40% neutral and 15% negative.

Chart 4.2

Chart 4.3 shows that, aside from issues related directly to the Olympics, China received substantial coverage, with 41% of the stories focusing on that country.

Chart 4.3

Some variations did appear when the results were compared across the six regions of the study. According to chart 4.4, the front pages with the most positive story topics came from the Arabic world (68% positive, 32% neutral, 0% negative), followed by China (67% positive, 32% neutral, 1% negative). Other Asian countries came in third (61% positive, 29% neutral, 10% negative), followed by Latin America (59% positive, 29% neutral, 12% negative), the EU-US (43% positive, 41% neutral, 17% negative), and Africa (21% positive, 56% neutral, 24% negative).

Chart 4.4

Chart 4.3 above correlates with the results of chart 4.5, which compares the tone towards China across the six regions. The EU-US region had the highest percentage of critical stories towards China (17%) and the second lowest percentage of stories favorable to China (13%). Africa came in second with 9% of its front page stories deemed critical towards China and 6% deemed favorable. Other Asian countries had 4% of their front page stories deemed critical and 20% favorable, followed by Latin America (3% critical, 15% favorable). The Arabic world and China had the highest percentage of favorable and lowest percentage of critical front page stories towards China. In fact, the Arabic world had no stories critical of China on its front pages, whereas China itself had 1% critical stories. However, while the Arabic world had almost half (48%) of its front page stories favorable of China, China had 59% of its stories favorable of its own country.

Chart 4.5

Predictably, the region that offered the highest percentage of stories focusing on China was China itself (92%). The Arabic world came in second with 60% of its front page stories focusing on China, followed by the EU-US (33%), other Asian countries (25%), Latin America (22%), and Africa (15%).

Chart 4.6

How ethnocentric was the coverage of the 2008 Olympics?